Not long after I pitched the last of Ted’s fingers out the Winnebago’s window, I saw the mean man and the sad woman.
Still on I-10, I had stopped to fill the gas tank when they pulled in beside me at the pumps. Now, I’m usually one to mind my own business, but they made it kind of hard, screaming and carrying on like they were. You could hear them even though their windows were rolled up. Him, at least. His voice was loud and pissed and carried a ways.
I tried my best to ignore the goings-on in the dusty red car. I had always figured what went on between a man and his wife－or whatever they were to each other－was their business, and nothing good ever came from sticking your nose in. So I stared out over the desert, thinking about Ted, while the gas went glug glug glug into the tank.
The slamming of a door pulled my attention back to the car. The man, a banty rooster runt of a thing, stalked around the front of the car and grabbed the nozzle on the other side of the pump I was using. He screwed off the cap, shoved it inside, then palmed his sweaty dark hair back from his forehead. His eyes met mine, narrowed. “What the hell are you looking at?” he growled.
“Nothing, not a thing,” I said calmly, my gaze drifting away to the Orocopia Mountains. And I had been looking at nothing because he was a nothing. I’d seen his kind before, mad at the world and looking for any excuse to lash out. You didn’t encourage idiots like him.
Leaving the gas pumping, the man went into the station. He came right back out holding one of them big wooden things businesses attach bathroom keys to and disappeared around the side of the building.
My eyes slid back to the car, to the woman staring through the glass at me. When our eyes met, she ducked her head and quickly looked away. But not fast enough that I didn’t see that the whole side of her face was swollen around a purplish-red black eye.
My stomach drew up in a tight, hard knot. None of your business, Louise…
The gas pump pinged and shut off. I took my receipt, and with a glance at the back of the woman’s head, crawled up into the Winnebago.
I had intended to get right back on the interstate, but my hands had a different idea, instead steering the RV around to the side of the station. Not thinking about what I was doing, just seeing that poor bruised face, I reached inside the small ice chest riding beside me and found what I was looking for. I stepped down from the Winnebago, eased the door closed, and feeling as if I were someone else, someone brave and strong, not chubby old Louise Fairbanks who couldn’t say shit if she had a mouthful, I toddled on swollen feet to stand in front of the door to the men’s restroom, hands clasped in an uneasy knot behind my back.
That bastard was going to get a piece of my mind. I’d tell him what a coward he was to be hitting on a woman, that only a weak man did that. That only a－
The door squeaked open.
The banty-man paused in the doorway, eyed me up and down. “Women’s over there,” he said, nodding toward the door I had passed by. “I reckon that’s what you are…” He grinned. “…hard to tell under all—”
My mind went all red like it had with Ted, and I lurched forward, elbowed him hard in the stomach. He stumbled backward, then went down with a breathy umpf. I kicked his feet into the bathroom with the rest of him, stepped inside and slammed the door behind me.
“What the…” the man wheezed, pushing up on his elbows.
I stood with my back plastered to the bathroom door, shaking—What have you done?—watching while he rolled around a bit, turned over,—You need to get out of here!—then pushed up on his hands and knees.—Now!
“I’ll make you wish you’d never been born,” he said, finding his legs, beginning to turn. “You stupid old bitch.”
A bitch, was I now?
I kicked out with everything in me—would’ve fallen if the door hadn’t been behind me—and my foot connected with one of his knees. Down he went again, snagging my shirttail and bringing me down on top of him.
His head made a nasty crack when it hit the concrete, and that’s all that saved me. Even though he was a small man, I was no match in a head to head with him, but the blow had stunned him, slowed and weakened him.
Thanking sweet Jesus that I had managed to hang onto it, I brought up the sharp little knife I had taken from the ice chest, the one I’d used on Ted, and went for the banty-man’s throat. I was off, catching mostly just skin on the side of his neck. He grunted, mumbled something, and before I could dodge it, his fist caught the side of my head.
If he’d had his full strength, he would’ve probably cold-cocked me, but as it was, I only saw two or three stars. I shook my head, pulled back, aimed. And this time, when I swung the knife, I got it right. When I yanked it out, blood squirted.
The banty-man made a strangled sound and bucked a few times beneath me, each one weaker than the one before, then went still. Panting, almost hyperventilating, I pushed away, scooted back on my butt until I was against the door. And watched him bleed out.
I hadn’t intended on killing him—I ignored the voice asking why I’d brought the knife then—but now that the deed was done, I was glad. He wouldn’t be hitting that sad-eyed woman, nor any woman, ever again. Like Ted, the world was a better place without him.
I stood, wincing at the pain in my right foot, the one I had used to kick the banty-man. Looked like I’d have to use the left to drive.
And I needed to drive. Now.
I hobbled the few steps to the sink and looked in the mirror. Flecks of blood dotted my cheeks, and a little had gotten into my hair. I turned on the cold tap, washed my hands and splashed my face, then wet a paper towel and pulled it through my hair where I saw blood. As I worked I studied the face staring back at me, the lines and wrinkles that had seemed to appear overnight, the blotchy skin, and watery green eyes that had lost their sparkle years ago. The drab auburn hair liberally streaked with gray. Add in the rounded, pudgy body, and I was the quintessential invisible woman, the one no one noticed. Not heard and not seen.
I looked around as I stepped out of the bathroom. Not a soul in sight. Good.
I saw the bathroom key on the ground, picked it up, pitched it inside, and pulled the door to. A few painful steps and I was inside the Winnebago, and back on the interstate.
As I turned south onto Highway 111, I decided I needed to buy a bigger knife.
Find out what happed to Ted here
©️2019 KT Workman
Photo via Pixabay